Monday, August 1, 2016

Always Learning

I was so fortunate to be able to attend TMC16 this year.  For me it was just so fantastic to be with a group of lifelong learners who love to talk about  learning and teaching math.  I came away with many ideas that I'd like to use this school year.

Probably the most important came in a conversation in the airport. Kathryn (@iisanumber) asked me what I love most about my classroom.  And I didn't have an answer.

This will be my 22nd year of teaching middle school math, most of it in 7th grade.  Each year I reflect on what I thought worked in my teaching, and look for ways to improve on what wasn't as successful.  I really do love my job.  I don't mind putting in long hours looking for new ideas, writing lessons, and giving students feedback on their learning.  I have lessons that I love to facilitate, especially those that allow students to discover conceptual understanding through exploration, or the learning that is motivated by an interesting/challenging task/problem/scenario.

Each year I get feedback from several students who had previously not met success in math classes but have really grown in our year together.  But I don't feel like I reach all my students, and wish I had opportunities to really get to know my students better, and for them to know me better,  and not just teach them content.  I think that has to go hand in hand with creating more opportunities to have fun with math and not be so focused on curriculum curriculum curriculum.  Which is so hard to do as I always feel like i'm under a time crunch.

I consider myself a risk taker as an educator.  Four years ago I started (independently but with approval from supportive admin) using standards based grading with my students. Two years ago I made another leap of faith and transferred to a school where the initiative was for the entire staff to do SBG.  What I love about SBG is that it improves my ability to use my gradebook to focus reteaching/relearning where it is needed and provide appropriate challenges.  I also love that students have multiple opportunities to learn at their own pace and their grades reflect their level of understanding without penalty for when they learned it.  But I still feel like students see relearning and reteaching as a punishment  rather than an opportunity.

At TMC I attended the Differentiate morning sessions with Michelle (@park_star).  I realized that I was mostly only using preassessment to identify students who already understood the content I was about to teach. When students showed learning gaps on pretests, I would look for ways to incorporate review into warm ups or early problems.  I think this is pretty common practice.  In Michelle's sessions she talked about strategic pre-teaching times before each unit so that all students entered in to the unit ready to learn the new content.  We also saw some flexible stations for student choice in practicing the areas where their learning has gaps.  I think this is the direction I'd like to go (although realistically developing this a bit each  year).

One of the biggest changes I made last year was in my warm ups- instead of traditional review of material from the day before we did things like "Which One Doesn't Belong Wednesday" (thanks !) and "Find a Pattern Friday" (thanks  I loved the risk taking I saw students at all levels take with these warm ups. But I did miss the cycle of bringing back in yesterdays learning and need to find a way to combine those two to help student make better connections.

For this year my goals will be...
a) get to know my students- find ways to have more fun and spark interest in math outside of math class time.
b) continue refining SBG process and feedback through more strategic differentiation
c) design more lessons that help students discover concepts or have built in motivation because of the hook (include building on warm ups routines started last year
d) find ways to time manage as I work on these goals as I have a 5 and 13 year old at home!


  1. I love the opening question and to be honest, I don't know how I would answer it either. Thanks for sharing your reflections!

    1. Thanks! I was thinking I was the only one who couldn't answer!